Dairy fever and drought may have ravaged our sheep industry, but it will take more than halving the national flock to deliver us from sheep gags.

A story this week in the Brisbane Times warned "time's running out for 'those' sheep jokes". But Kiwi comedians and sheep industry figures aren't convinced.

Gone are the days that sheep outnumbered two-legged New Zealanders by 22 to one. The national flock has plummeted from 70.3 million in 1982 to 34.1 million last year, although our remaining eight sheep for every person still tops the world.

Sheep numbers have also dipped across the Tasman, although their four-to-one ratio is half ours.

Kiwi sheep were knocked from their farmyard pedestal years ago. Export earnings from Kiwi lamb and mutton are expected to top $3 billion this season, but dairy exports will probably earn twice that.

But why let the facts get in the way of a good stereotype? Said Mike Petersen, Meat and Wool New Zealand chairman: "When I go to Europe I tell farmers that you can drive down a road for miles and not see a sheep, and they just can't believe me. I'm afraid the sheep jokes are probably here to stay."

Kiwi comedian Andrew Clay began his career in Sydney. "I'd have a routine prepared because I'd get drowned out with sheep noises. I'd say, don't do that, it gets me really horny."

Rhys Darby, back on our screens in Flight of the Conchords tomorrow night, and comedian Mike King, have the same killer comeback to the Aussie heckle. It involves pointing out that whatever Kiwis do to their sheep, it's the Aussies who then eat them.